Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs when an individual has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Although the symptoms of PTSD can affect anyone who was involved in a horrible circumstance, it’s most common among combat veterans. For many families of military veterans with PTSD, it’s difficult to cope with a condition that seems unbearable. For this reason, most families decide to obtain help and learn ways to understand the symptoms, and what to do to diminish the difficulties that accompany the disorder.

Learning the symptoms of PTSD is crucial so that one can learn how to identify the disorder and approach it with empathy.

Below are a few tips that can help anyone understand PTSD in military veterans:

What are the symptoms?

1.    Reliving the experience

The most common symptom of PTSD is experiencing nightmares. Most PTSD sufferers find this symptom to be the most difficult because it places them in a situation where he or she is reliving the traumatic circumstance. These sleep disturbances are also known to cause great distress and anxiety. When military veterans experience these symptoms, they often prefer not to sleep to avoid feeling terrorized. These same symptoms also present as intrusive thoughts that show up involuntary as images of a difficult moment, or a terrifying situation. Similarly, when a military veteran experiences a flashback it takes him or her back to a difficult situation or setting. Experts assert that this symptom is the most dangerous because military veterans imagine as if they are experiencing the event. This occurs mostly when they find themselves in a location that looks a lot like a setting he or she encountered in combat which puts them in a position of mortal danger, especially if he or she is driving, or in any situation that could place their life at risk.

2.    Avoiding situations that can bring back negative memories

Another symptom of PTSD is avoidance. Combat veterans often want to avoid elements or situations that remind them of combat. For this reason, PTSD sufferers often have a hard time encountering social interactions or being at places where they feel as if they are experiencing the events of combat all over again. Places such as restaurants, grocery stores, or movie theaters are some of the places patients avoid mainly because they feel trapped. When PTSD patients feel as if they cannot easily see their way out, or cannot see what’s happening on the other side of a crowded area, they feel trapped and out of control. After encountering traumatic situations, it’s natural to want to avoid everything that reminds you of that moment. Whether trying to avoid a certain smell or a type of music, this is what patients do to relieve themselves from situations that may cause terror or sorrow.

3.    Negative changes in beliefs about themselves or the people around them

Patients with PTSD often experience negative changes in beliefs about themselves or have negative perspectives about the people around them. The feeling of fear, guilt, and shame often leads them to think that people, in general, aren’t worth trusting. Most PTSD patients also have difficulty feeling love toward others and avoid getting into relationships. In most cases, PTSD is also accompanied by depression that can have a person feeling down and disinterested for years. It is very common for people to experience depression right after trauma and it is the reason why PTSD is a lot harder to cope with.

4.    Feeling amped up

It is also very common for PTSD patients to feel hyper-vigilant after experiencing a traumatic event. Most patients have trouble staying calm and are often concerned about danger, or situations that can put their life—or the life of a loved one—at risk. Patients also feel jittery and are easily startled by loud noises or elements that could feel as a threat. The reason why patients react in this manner is mainly because they feel unsafe, which leads them to be extra cautious of the world around them.

What should families know?

The most important element to remember when trying to get help is that nobody should feel guilty about the situations or feelings of the PTSD patient. With the right help, combat veterans can make it through and learn ways that can diminish these thoughts and feelings. This, in turn, allows the family to see that there is a solution and that PTSD can be treated so that both the patient and his or her family live a fulfilling life.